‘Ghost Cat’ by Andrea Lynn Koohi

Cats are everywhere these days. 

“Look, a kitty!” my 4-year-old son Jack shouts, dropping his fork to his plate and pointing out the window. 

I look out to our backyard and sigh. Indeed there is a kitty, and it’s one I’ve seen before, tiptoeing across the garden soil as though it thinks I can’t see it. White fur popping like snow on coal. 

“I think he likes our backyard,” Jack says as the cat lowers its backside behind a hydrangea. 

“Indeed,” I say, glaring at the cat and then remembering the other cat I’ve been meaning to bring up all day. Lucy, my sister-in-law’s cat – dead for two weeks already, and I still haven’t told Jack. She was probably about a hundred years old in human years, but what comfort is that to a kid? Plus, he loved her. 

So I’ve let the days pass with Jack’s ignorance intact. I’ve watched him play Doctor with his own “kitty” – a ratty old plush with a resemblance to Lucy I could really do without. 

“Time for your check-up!” he told the plush this morning. The cat’s bent-whiskered head fell grotesquely to the side, but Jack didn’t mind. Plastic doctor’s kit in hand, he set his small hands to work.

Stethoscope to the heart. Thermometer to the mouth. Here’s a bit of medicine. Look, all better now.

The thing about secrets is that they’re kind of like cats. If I keep them locked up, my whole world creeps with their presence. I sense them in the shadows like silent stalkers, slinking around in the corners of my vision, lurking in places I thought they couldn’t reach. It’s high time I set this one free.     

I take a deep breath and turn to Jack. 

“So you know your Aunt Sara’s cat, Lucy?”

His face lights up and my chest aches instantly. I should have known better than to look at him.

My eyes find the cat outside again, now lounging ghost-like on the freshly cut lawn. Suddenly it hits me that we’ve been here before. Not at this table, but in the car, the day I told him my mother died. Our bodies were just like this, in fact – facing the same direction, looking out the window, sparing me the need to look at him. 

The message on my tongue feels heavier now. “Well,” I say, staring harder at the cat, but now seeing my mother’s cat, snow white as well. “Remember when we talked about how, when animals and people get old, they die?” 

Jack says nothing, but I feel his body tense, a spoon of peas forgotten in his hand. 

“Lucy was very old and sick.” I’m hauling words like bricks now. “She died a few weeks ago.” 

No response. 

I know the sort of thing I should say to him next – “It’s ok to feel sad – I feel sad too” or “I know you loved her and you’re going to miss her.” Validate their emotions, I read somewhere. Let them know it’s ok to feel.  

“So,” I say. “We won’t be seeing her anymore.”     

My mother. The cat. The cat. My mother. I close my eyes to clear the jumble in my mind, but now I’m seeing the road again. My hands are gripping the steering wheel and I’m delivering the news in the very same way. A passing fact, a tale of spilt milk. We’re seeing tons of these cases, the police officer said. Given her history, it was bound to happen eventually.  

I open my eyes and glance at Jack, who’s still looking forward, eyes wide. 

I’m hoping this plays out like it did in the car. He’ll stay silent for a minute and then change the subject, it won’t be a big deal when he never mentions her name again. 

Finally Jack speaks, his voice too small for the boy I know. 

“Nothing lasts forever, right Mama?” 

I scour my brain for something comforting, but his words sit between us like a newly formed crevice. There’s nothing I can think of to bridge it. 

“That’s right, Jack,” I say. 

My mother used to leave out three bowls of kibble and three bowls of water every day for her cat. When I asked her why and she said “just in case”, I remember how I laughed and changed the subject.

Stethoscope to the heart. Thermometer to the mouth. Sometimes there is no medicine. 

The cat climbs the wooden fence at the back of our yard and navigates the top with perfect balance.


Andrea Lynn Koohi is a writer and editor from Toronto. Her work appears or is forthcoming in The Maine Review, Pithead Chapel, Cabinet of Heed, Idle Ink, Streetlight Magazine, Emerge Literary Journal and others.

‘Old Habits’ by Ciku Gitonga

At 11 p.m., the Ottawa airport was nearly deserted. I sat there surrounded by my luggage, an island on a sea of blue carpeting.

“What are you doing on the ground?” I didn’t look as he came to stand beside me. “Hey, come on, it’s gross down there. Shoes have been everywhere.”

“Mm-hm,” I said, not moving. “I’m tired.”

He crouched beside me and took my hand. 

“I know, baby, I know. Look, we don’t have to go back to—” Instinctively, he paused as some people walked past us. I hated him for that second, for his reflexive accommodation. “We don’t have to go back all the way to Mum’s. The lady at the desk said that we can stay at The Marigold free of charge for tonight. Come back tomorrow morning for the new flight.”

It was good news—a part of me acknowledged it, and another part stared absently at the passing feet of a large family rushing to gate 12, thinking nothing. 

“How would we even get there?” I said. I was still not looking at him. Lifting my gaze seemed too much effort. 

“The airport shuttle,” he was saying. “We should start moving to the stop, actually. The next one leaves in, like, 20 minutes.”

“Mmh.”

Now he placed his hand on my chin, tilted upwards. “Hey,” he said. I looked at him, then away, gently chastised.

“I’m sorry. I feel like shit.” I had since this afternoon, when I woke up at 5 p.m. to the tinny blare of my birth control alarm. We’d stumbled in well past sunrise, fallen asleep fully clothed. There’s something depressing about waking up in the afternoon. I’d had a whole day planned to cap off our trip. A morning jog along Rideau, brunch at a nice little place in Byward. As I lay in bed, the back of my head gradually gained momentum to a steady, sharp thudding. He’d moved to press himself against me, hand reaching for my breast, and I’d shot away, ran to the toilet bowl to heave. 

This was on Kibanja. On all of them, really, but on him especially. Throughout the night he’d hovered like a fucking odour, closer than anyone in the ring of friends. On the Uber to the bar, I’d promised myself silently to show enthusiasm—we’d fought the day before about his friends, our voices hushed and hissing in his mother’s guestroom. It had scared me to see his nostrils flared and his voice sharpened—sometimes I forget that his cool, almost neutral expression is not permanent. Afterwards, lying naked in his arms, I had promised to try. And I did—I immersed myself into his circle last night, feeling like a swinging hatchet plunging into the rings of a tree trunk, tightly bound and ancient. 

When I first met them, Kibanja and Stef and the rest, I saw how they carried the years with them, and how the years melted away in their gestures, echoes of freshman days. He became different with them—regressed, I guess. It was repulsive. Like how he became around his mother, sitting in adolescent complacency as she bustled about. When he reached for me across his childhood sheets, I instinctively recoiled. 

“Kibanja was there for me when no one else was,” he had said during our fight. “He helped me stand up to the guys who were giving me shit at Ridgemont.”

“But he takes advantage of you,” I had said.

You’re a pushover, always have been, I had wanted to say. 

Last night I watched them: he, hanging on to every word, downing the shots as Kibanja egged him on. I remember the stories he told me about grade 12, how he’d get beers with his new ID while Kibanja and his lacrosse friends waited outside. Afterwards, he’d walk behind them into the woods, following their long shadows.

“One time they got me to drink so much—it actually wasn’t that much—and I was puking everywhere. Kibanja didn’t even want to drop me off home because Mum would know what was up. God, they roasted me for that night for, like, months.”

“So you had to walk home alone?”

“Well, yeah, but—”

I smirked. Kibanja was their centre when they all got together. They moved like waves at his frequency. His little band of misfits. I watched, ordering one drink after another, pretending to laugh with Stef. 

I had said: “It’s like you haven’t, like, grown up at all—”

Now he was holding both my hands. “Look, it’ll be just the two of us in a big hotel bed. You can relax. I’ll give you a massage. Eh?”

The skin of his palms was damp and warm. I imagined the patches of sweat he’d leave on the hotel sheets. I imagined the hotel room deep in darkness, after I had given in, after he’d finally fallen asleep. I would look at him from across the bed. His features went even softer in sleep, and his body curled inward like a fetus, like a wilting flower. And I, stiffly staring.

Now, on the airport floor, I looked up and matched his smile. I rose when he pulled me up with him. As I stood, I fought the sudden urge to vomit.


Ciku Gitonga is a second-year student at the University of Ottawa, studying Political Science. She immigrated to Canada from Kenya in 2016. She enjoys writing, mostly fiction, and sometimes poetry. This piece is her first to be published anywhere, and she is very excited. 

‘Florida Room’ by Wilson Koewing

When I was five, we visited my dad’s parents in Florida for Christmas. I rode down to Nokomis Beach with my grandpa. He stopped by the bait shack and purchased a Budweiser.

“That your grandson, Al?” a fisherman asked.

I was half hiding behind a dock piling. 

“That’s what they tell me.” 

My grandpa was a first-generation German immigrant. A child of the Depression. I had Nintendo and all the games. His blonde-haired blue-eyed grandson. We walked out on the jetty to watch the boats leave the marina. 

On the way home he cut a sharp left. We ended up at a bar under a bridge. It was dark and smoky inside. He ordered me a Coke and lifted me onto the bar. 

“Ginger, this is my grandson.”

“Al, I didn’t know you had a family,” Ginger said. 

He ordered a Manhattan. I sipped my Coke as they chatted. 

When we left, he said, “Don’t tell anyone I brought you here.” 

I nodded that I understood. 

“If you do, I’ll never take you anywhere like that again.” 

As we drove home, I stared out the window. The palm trees and retro houses of Nokomis gave way to the sprawl of Venice before opening to fields of sawgrass on the town’s edge. We returned to their house in a subdivision of houses that all looked the same. But all Florida. 

We entered through the garage. My dad looked at me like he knew I was hiding something. My mom glanced up from a magazine.

“You okay?” she said.

“Boy,” my dad said. “Answer your mother.”  

I didn’t answer.

My grandma, who’d been outside doing aerobics, stepped inside sweating. 

Feeling the weight of their collective gaze, I caved. 

“He took me to a dark place under the bridge,” I said. “There was a lady who liked him. She gave me a coke.”

My dad laughed.

“Honestly, Albert,” my grandma said. 

His stare was burning me alive. He and my dad went out on the Florida room with beers. My grandma squeezed fresh orange juice. My mom returned to her magazine. 

I crept out to the Florida room. When my grandpa noticed me, he shook his head in devastated disappointment.  

***

We visited every Christmas after that. As the years passed, I sat with him in his Florida room. On Sundays we watched Dan Marino. Believing the Dolphins could win. Me on the patio couch, him in his chair with a beer and The Wall Street Journal. My dad at the table in the corner, cracking wise. The Dolphins perpetually losing. Marino carving up defenses in vain.

On weekday afternoons, we watched the stock market ticker tape. I’d watch for the symbols of the companies he held to roll by and tell him the price. 

Florida in December was humidity and short days. Afternoon storms. Gators that might wander calmly through the yard or right up to the screen door. 

My grandpa saying, “Hey, you, look at there,” as my eyes globed. 

The orchard in his backyard where I ran in circles to release youthful energy. Even in winter, the grapefruits and oranges glistened on the branches. I gazed up at them with one eye shut so their circumference eclipsed the sun as it burnt still over the treetops. 

“Get in here,” he’d yell. “Marino’s got the ball again.” 

And for years that’s how it went. Until I got older and he got older and bone cancer, assisted living and dementia. Until the Christmas we didn’t visit, and my dad went down to handle the estate and help my grandma move out of their house and into a retirement community. 

I didn’t see him when things got bad. My parents sheltered me from that. 

I figure we owe it to our parents to stand by as they fade from this existence, but not our grandparents. There’s a buffer that goes both ways. Maybe that was why me telling the truth about the bar allowed him to connect with me in ways he couldn’t connect with his own children. 

If nothing else, he taught me a timeless lesson. And maybe that’s all he ever wanted. I regret never saying how much it meant to me, but I take solace in believing he knew. 

For as long as we visited, anytime he and I were left alone on the Florida room he reminded me about the bar. He let me know he hadn’t forgotten. We could watch football together. Go pin fishing under the drawbridge down in Nokomis or on his Wednesday drive to every grocery store in Venice to check the marked down meats. Walks on the jetty and the snacks at the bait shop. The countless hours of silence we enjoyed together. But never once did he take me to another bar or offer me his confidence again. On that he never broke his word. 


Wilson Koewing is a writer from South Carolina. His work has recently appeared in Bending Genres, Schuylkill Valley Journal, The Loch Raven Review and New World Writing.

‘You Cannot Keep Things In Your Pockets’ by Paige Olivia Roberts

At daycare, caterpillars cover the chain link fence surrounding the playground. I spend recess petting their soft bodies. Cover my hands like henna tattoos. Their little feet stick on my skin like miniature tentacles. 

I love the caterpillars; I want to take them home and put them in jars on my windowsill so I can pet and feed them until they cocoon and become butterflies. One by one, I put them in the pockets of my overalls for safekeeping. Sometimes I reach in a pudgy hand and slide a finger across the back of a velvety squirm.

When Mom buckles me into my car seat in the back of her silver Mazda, I pull out my caterpillars to show them to her, but they are all dead or dying, slowly writhing in my sweaty palm.

“Why did you do that?” Mom asks, upset. But I protest the entire car ride home, holding them in cupped hands on my lap, telling her how much I love them, how soft and perfect they are, and how I will take care of them. 

“Not everything is meant to be kept like that,” she says as we pull into the driveway. She unbuckles me from my seat and the herbal smell of her lotion lingers next to me as we walk up the concrete steps to our apartment. The last caterpillar is dying in the curl of my pinky. 

“I don’t know what to do,” I say, sad I am not good enough to keep them alive. 

Mom puts out her hand, and I silently dump the caterpillar carcasses into her palm. I follow her back outside to the edge of the woods, where she crouches and sprinkles them onto a tuft of leaves. 

“We can’t just leave them here,” I whine, hoping Mom can cast some spell and bring them back to life. 

“They deserve to be free and where they belong. You cannot keep things in your pockets and expect them to survive on your love alone.”

She walks me back inside and readies herself for her bartending shift. I watch from the couch as she brushes her hair and dabs her face with a hot washcloth. Sit and wait for my babysitter or dad to arrive. Whoever shows up first. 


Paige Olivia Roberts has a degree in Creative Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Henniker Review, Sidereal Magazine, and Rejection Letters. She has been nominated for a Best of the Net and Pushcart Prize. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Find her on Twitter @paige_por.

‘San Carlos’ by Charles Haddox

In a small room bathed with sunlight, Nana and her mother had spread out herbs to dry on pale blue nylon netting.  The room was filled with magical scents: aromas of earth, of bitter sage perfume, of sweet grapes and citrus, and of rich, ambrosial incense. Dark roots lay in careful rows like market vegetables. Sprigs were spread out flat so that their leaves did not touch.  They looked like tiny children’s drawings of trees. A few large leaves were laid out singly, resembling lance points, bronze-age artifacts turned green by the work of time. Nana was enchanted as she sat before them. Her mother had told her a few minutes earlier about certain plants on the island that had never been identified by botanists. They were species and varieties without a Latin name. Her mother knew them only by the names given to them by generations of San Carlos Islanders. Those names were poetic and sometimes enigmatic. They were symbols, signposts to be read by illiterate peoples; wisdom handed down by her and her mother’s own forebears.  They were part of her heritage, her herencia, that wonderful Spanish word which means both heritage and inheritance.

Nana went to the window and looked out toward the untamed forest that grew a few meters from her home. Most of the nearby trees had great multiple trunks and branches covered with fibrous, dark-brown bark. They belonged to the genus Prosopis and were called feather trees. Their abruptly-pinnate compound leaves looked a little like dark green feathers. Below the nearest tree, a cluster of bamboo-like shrubs with flowers resembling great white pinecones took shelter from the tropical sun. Those shrubs were wild members of the ginger family. The islanders called them soapy ginger. Nana started back as a red grasshopper the size of her thumb leapt onto the mesh screen of the window. A flock of birds settled on the grass that lay between the trees and the house and began to peck for seeds. They were midnight black and the size of doves, except for a few with bright wings the color of raspberry-ice. Nana remembered a stanza from a poem she had read. The lines seemed nonsensical to her:

At twilight a bird fell,
to trouble my sleep
like pink ice.

 There was certainly nothing troubling about the scene outside the window.  She loved the natural world surrounding her. The secret magical plants, the fiercely gaudy birds, the grotesque and playful fish, the awesome, sacred thunderstorms—they were all as much a part of her as the soft, clipped sound of the islander’s speech.

The grasshopper darted away from the window. Its ancestors had been carried to the island by tropical storms, and there they had found their Eden. The same was true of the black birds. Perhaps the male birds had not developed their raspberry-ice wings until after they arrived—on an island with few predators, they could be as gaudy as they pleased. For the animals that colonized the island hundreds of thousands of years ago, their greatest predator had only recently arrived. The people of the island were wont to treat them as a nuisance or as objects of sport. They had also brought animals that escaped and became feral; destructive hunters and scavengers who lived off the native wildlife. Nana marveled at the lack of respect for the island’s creatures that she so often encountered in her daily life.  

She remembered a story that Father Daniel, a Canadian missionary, had told her about a visit to France he had made in his early twenties. Father Daniel and his friends spent several days in Paris, and on their final day one of them remembered in a panic that his parents had told him to be sure and see the “Mona Lisa” during his visit. He asked for Father Daniel’s help (he was just Daniel in those days), and he took him to the Louvre, where the “Mona Lisa” could be found. The young man asked an attendant at the door for directions to the “Mona Lisa.” The attendant explained in detail how to find it, and the young man sprinted through rooms and corridors until he came to the spot where it hung. He stared at the “Mona Lisa” for a moment, as if in shock. His face wore the expression of someone on whom a cruel joke had been played, and he murmured to himself, in total disbelief, “It’s just a damn painting,” before stomping off in anger. Nana could imagine hearing someone on San Carlos saying, “It’s just a damn bird,” after shooting a brace of them for sport.

A pair of small gray birds with white crests joined the black ones on the grass. They pecked at the ground for a moment before suddenly taking wing. Nana watched as they flew off toward the forest. In some bright clearing, grass and mosses were already overtaking fallen branches and trunks. And beneath them, in the rich, silent earth, her impenetrable ancestors slept.  


Charles Haddox lives in El Paso, Texas, on the U.S.-Mexico border, and has family roots in both countries. His work has appeared in a number of journals including Chicago Quarterly Review, Sierra Nevada Review, Folio, and Stonecoast Review.

‘Self-defense Against Yesterday’ by Judy Darley

The first call of the day comes at 11 a.m. sharp. The girl sounds like she’s still sleep-fogged. She tells me she’s called Gala and asks me to bring a wheelbarrow. I raise an eyebrow at the phone, but don’t make a peep. I’ve had stranger requests.

I’m at her door within the half hour. Gala lets me in, blinking yesterday’s partially unstuck false lashes. I wonder if she knows desiccated kelp is knotted in her hair.

“Can’t you call him an Uber?” I ask. Part of my role is to help the girls become self-sufficient. “Is he really that legless?”

She shakes head. “The problem’s the opposite.” She points to the bathroom door. “In there.”

“What, passed out?”

The girl’s mouth purses so tightly it looks sewn onto her face 

Curiosity overcomes me and I step inside.

At first, I don’t know where to look. Then a splash makes my heart jump and I turn. 

The cephalopod eye that meets mine is vast and full of winter storms.

The towel rail bolsters my balance as I totter. 

Limbs ridged with pearly suckers wave in greeting. Translucent skin flushes from the bathroom suite’s aquamarine to a coy blush shade.

I swallow once, and again. My throat is as dry as the strand at low tide. Inhaling, I expect to smell fish, but catch only hints of salt and stale amaretto.

As I stare, the octopus stretches sinuously until he almost fills the tub. The immense eye seems to expand until it’s all I see. My head fills with a blueness, a greenness, the drag of currents and tides. I grow fluid; weightless. The light dappling my skin is not from the sun.

The ocean recedes and I’m in the bathroom, aware of my one heart thudding out of rhythm with the octopus’s three.

With a curl of one limb, the octopus beckons, siphon frilling gently.

I take a step backwards, out of the bathroom, and close the door behind me.

“Where’d you pick that one up?”

“Don’t know.” Gala closes her eyes. “Don’t remember.”

“What’s the last thing you do recall?”

“A glass of something with one of those maraschino cherries… That stupid Justin Bieber song ‘What Do You Mean?’ playing way too loud.” She frowns. “Will you help, Hera? My mate Ari says you got rid of a half-bull for her last week. She reckons you’re the best.”

“That’s why I’m here.”

I drag the wheelbarrow up the steps into the house and through to the bathroom. “Look, I don’t know what your deal is, but you can’t stay here. I’ll leave the barrow and when I come back, I want you in it. Got that?”

Gala’s grinning when I rejoin her in the kitchen, but I fix her with my steeliest look.

“You are not off the hook, missus. What madness is this, not remembering? Time to slow down, take better care of yourself.”

Her smile withers. “I know that, Hera. Last night was just…” She pushes up her sleeve, showing me a round red welt on her inner arm. “They’re all over me. Reckon they’re from the suckers.”

I sigh and hug her. “Don’t fret. I’ll check he’s in the barrow, chuck a bath towel over him, then this is almost over. Ok?”

“Ok.”

The wind is against us as we march down to the strand. The octopus peers out from under the towel occasionally, his massive eye looking at me rather than our surroundings. 

What? I want to shout. What are you judging me for?

I wonder if we should have called the local aquarium, but vaguely remember that their last cephalopod died after laying ten thousand eggs.

The ocean vision I glimpsed makes me certain this cycloptic octopus has never been in captivity.

It’s harder going when we reach the sand. The wheel keeps sinking. I use all my strength to shove it onwards until we reach where the grains are packed dense and wet.

“Can you make it from here?” I ask, and the octopus makes a movement with one limb that I assume means yes.

I stand back and watch as he clambers out, entire body rippling as he flows into the surf. 

He doesn’t look back. 

Gala and I sit on the strand for a while despite the cold, watching the wind chase clouds over the sea. I run my fingers through her hair, picking out the seaweed. “You girls needs to look after yourselves better,” I tell her. “I was only able to offload your mate Ari’s half-bull thanks to the ring in its nose. On Thursday, Eury woke up next to a viper! Pure poison. If you don’t watch yourselves, one of these nights you’ll bring home some beast I can’t get shot off. Did Ari show you the self-defence mantra? Stay Alert, Expect the Worst…”

She snorts, bull-like herself for an instant, and spouts the next line: “If in doubt, LEAVE. Yeah, got it. No more pills, or booze. I’ll take up yoga instead.”

“Come to my self-defence class on Tuesday,” I urge her. “I promise you it’ll be at least as useful as yoga.” My mobile vibrates. I check the WhatsApp message. 

“Emergency?” Gala asks.

I nod. “Lass called Atala’s accidentally brought home two half-horses she needs gone. Ok to get yourself home?”

She nods, and I hurry off, wheeling the barrow before me like a chariot.


Judy Darley is a British author who can’t stop writing about the fallibilities of the human mind. Her short fiction and journalism have been published and performed in the UK, US, Canada, Hong Kong, New Zealand and India. She is Flash Fiction Editor at Reflex Press. Judy’s short story collection Sky Light Rain is out from Valley Press. Her debut collection Remember Me To The Bees is available from Tangent Books. Find Judy at skylightrain.com@JudyDarley on Twitter.

‘Every House Has A Closet’ by Praise Osawaru

Olawale stood in the corridor, in front of the brown door, gawking at its strange markings. Whispers streamed from the closed door into his head every second he spent looking. He wanted to turn around and resume cleaning the house—the reason he followed his mom to Mr. Idemudia’s house, to assist her in tidying up the rich man’s home. The same thing he had always done every weekend. But this door held his gaze, compelling him to a standstill.

A sparrow flew and landed on the window of the corridor, offering an alluring tune. Or perhaps it was a warning. Olawale ignored it. He stretched forth his hand, gripped the doorknob, and twisted it left, right, left. The door opened wide. Within, darkness the length of the room. Another whisper and he took three footsteps in. The door slammed shut behind. Then, he realized what had happened.

“Mom!”

Upstairs, his mom froze on hearing his scream. She threw her broom into the bosom of a couch and dashed off. She traced the echoes of his screams downstairs, a room by the end of the corridor. The same room Mr. Idemudia told her to never enter. Her heart quaked within and she let out a shaking breath.

Just the day before, she had walked into the four-bedroom duplex conscientiously, following an invitation from Mr. Idemudia. Her friend who knew a friend who knew another friend secured her another cleaning job for a wealthy man. She figured including an additional cleaning job into her already tight schedule won’t kill her, so she consented and came to see him.

“Mrs. Salewa, I have just one rule,” Mr. Idemudia said to her, his oblong face stiffened.

She gulped loud like a stone falling into a lake then responded, “I’m listening, sir.”

They both stood opposite each other in the corridor, the air around them uptight as her boss unloaded his rule into her ears.

“Don’t go into the room at the end of this corridor. Take whatever you want from the refrigerator, prepare yourself a queen’s meal, and dance around in the house for all I care. But never enter—never open the door.”

Mrs. Salewa “Yes, sir. But—”

“But what?”

“Where’s the room I shouldn’t enter?”

He paid her silence as a reward for her question. He thought showing her the room would only heighten her curiosity and drive her towards ultimately going against his order. So he didn’t. He thought he was right, but life is unpredictable and things have a way of going south whether we want it or not.

Honks from a car accompanied by screeches pulled her back into the present.

It was as though Mr. Idemudia knew someone had stepped foot into the room. He drove into the compound hastily, kicking his car door wide open and darting into the house. Panting, he headed straight to the brown-door room, meeting Olawale’s mom before it.

“Oga, my son is inside. And the door won’t open.”

“I just went to buy some foodstuffs and you’ve already messed things up! Ehn!”

Mr. Idemudia turned, facing the room. He breathed softly, gripping the doorknob and twisting it carefully. Left. Right. Left. The door opened slowly, letting a frightening creak into the air. The room unhurriedly became lit, driving the darkness into nothingness. Inside, Olawale sat on the floor, legs folded, a broadened smile carved on his face. Two identical girls sat opposite him in white gowns, cackling. A board with snakes and ladders pictured on it laid in the space between them.

Mr. Idemudia and Olawale’s mom walked in, interrupting the children’s game. On seeing Mr. Idemudia, the girls stood up and ran toward him, yelling, “Daddy, you came early today and brought friends!”

Olawale’s mom launched toward Olawale, landing a strident smack on his left cheek. He winced.

“What are you doing here? No, tell me! I—” she paused.

Something caught her attention. Two brown coffins rested in the west end of the room. Both opened. Amid them, a small wooden being, a bowl before him. Just then, she realized the girls called him ‘Daddy’.

“Wait, Oga. I thought you said your kids passed away—that they drowned,” she said, her face heavy with confusion.

“Get out!”

“But, Oga…”

“If you tell anyone what you saw here, things won’t go well for you. Get out!”

Olawale and his mom hastened out of the room. And the door shut itself after them. 

*

Night fell quicker than expected. Olawale’s mom spent nearly an hour in the kitchen preparing dinner—eba and egusi. She exited the kitchen, carrying two bowls in her hands, and walked to the living room, where Olawale laid motionlessly on the sofa. The room was lit by a fluorescent light bulb hanging from a wire in the ceiling. She placed the bowls on the coffee table, and stared ahead, shaking her head at her quiescent son, whose mouth refused to stay sealed. She smacked his feet, calling his name as she sat on a small wooden chair adjacent to him.

“Wale, wake up. Wa jeun.”

But he didn’t even move a muscle.

“Wale! Wale!” She yelled, rising, her right hand ready for another smacking.

The light bulb in the living room flickered for a few seconds, then maintained an illuminated state. Olawale stood behind her, his face as pale as a blank page. He watched his mom, hit his body repeatedly as she cried his name, the sound filling up the room.

“Come, let’s play,” a voice emerged from behind.

Olawale turned around. Mr. Idemudia’s daughters stood a few inches before him, their round faces complemented with grins. One of the twins stretched her left hand forward, palm wide open, awaiting an interlocking. Olawale stared at her palm, then spun to face his mother.

“Let’s go, Wale.”

Olawale turned and grasped one of the twins’ outstretched hands, lacing his fingers with hers.


Praise Osawaru (he/him) is a writer and poet of Bini descent. A Best of the Net nominee, his works appear or are forthcoming in Blue Marble Review, Giallo Lit, Glass Poetry, Ice Floe Press, Kalahari Review, Rising Phoenix Review, and elsewhere. He’s a 2020 Jack Grapes Poetry Prize Finalist, and he was also shortlisted for the Babishai 2020 Haiku Award and the Nigerian Students Poetry Prize 2020. A Virgo and lover of the strange and speculative, he’s a prose reader for Chestnut Review. Find him on Instagram/Twitter: @wordsmithpraise.

‘Spring Backward, Fall Forward’ by Angelica Whitehorne

Winter is coming. Your Dog opens his mouth and the song of a bird comes out. Every year he becomes a sparrow and flies to Florida to flounce Snow. Snow is a cold-hearted woman who had a deadly ex-relationship with your dog. This year, when he takes flight he takes you along on his back and you feel like the favorite child. You grab onto his flank, sit unsaddled with your head in the clouds, for once head in the clouds is an achievement, not an insult towards your tendency for distraction.

You and your Dog spend the winter sipping mimosas and playing tennis and already you know this will be one of your fondest seasons. 

“This will be one of my fondest seasons,” you tell your Dog and he chirps his agreement.

Months later, Spring, who also happens to be your closest childhood friend, doesn’t show up for the fourth year in a row, letting the slick-eyed Winter slip into the burning, flirting mess of Summer. You see on social media that Spring is in Detroit at a music festival in a light coat with a blunt in one hand and a lover in the palm of her other.

For once you are not offended, you sit in Summer’s lap and flirt back. The sweat shining over your peach fuzz is like the green light of a traffic signal and your laugh is wide, exposing the deep of your molars where the mimosas have taken mortgages out on your enamel. 

It is Fall when you trip in your new plaid skirt, and your butt cheeks reveal themselves to the autumnal breeze and everyone sees you have a tattoo portrait of Spring on the left flab. Spring, who still hasn’t called you back but who looks too good in pink ink to get a cover up done. 

You’ve scraped your knees and your elbows and all up your back and you bleed the colors of changing leaves, red and orange and a little brown too. For once you are not embarrassed, you fix your skirt and run your fingers through the blood puddles like you are playing in a sandbox.

It is Winter again when your Dog says his back is too old to carry you this year, but you can take a flight and meet him down there if you’d like. He knows that you have an allergy to metal and small airplane T.V.s. And you know that really he wants to sit and play poker with friends his age, so instead you shrink down and sit in a hot cup of tea in your cold room and trace the band-aids you’ve stuck on yourself to stop the bleeding last season and you decide to start taking care of yourself (for once.)

And now it would be Spring again if Spring came, but she never does, so it is the breath after Winter and before Summer texts you to hook up, when you start peeling off band-aid after band-aid from your body, dropping the pus filled cotton to mingle with your carpet.

And for once the band-aids do not gnash teeth with your skin underneath. They are taking flight like retired dogs and for once the wound has crusted over into baby’s skin which looks up at you with your eyes and drools a little and for once you aren’t missing or waiting on anyone and you feel that for once a new season has come, one you have yet to name or get to know or be betrayed by. 


By day Angelica Whitehorne writes for the Development department of a refugee organization in New York. By night she writes her poetry and stories with her 10 plants as backdrop and her future on her tongue. She has forthcoming work in the North Dakota Quarterly, Ruminate, Hooligan Magazine, Oyster River Pages, Magnolia Review, Wingless Dreamer, Door Is A Jar, Crack the Spine, Dissenting Voices, Breadcrumbs Magazine, Neon Mariposa and Amethyst Review.

‘For I Have Sinned’ by Bryan Joe Okwesili

It is a cold Wednesday morning. The harmattan breeze settles over the city like the heavens have come to meet the earth. It touches the earth and everything is brown and dry and cold and more brown. It is mid-November but the people on the streets have begun to talk about Christmas, its merry moments and how everything skips past with each bottle of beer. You want Christmas too. Your mother says Christmas has a distinct smell, and that fried beef tastes better then. You inhale but dust fills your nostrils. You put a palm over your nose and quicken your steps. You must meet God and tell everything.

The church is a warm embrace when you enter. It is like heaven doesn’t touch here. A statue of a bleeding Jesus stares down at you, eyes sullen from pain. The pews shimmer under the tiny bright lights on the ceiling. In a dim corner is the confessional; a space where trapped sins roam. You walk up to it, your heart clinging to your throat, ready to jump out. 

You cross yourself, then you kneel. There is a purple curtain before you, keeping you from seeing the priest. You wonder if he can see you, if he has the same clenching tightness in his stomach. 

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It is three months since my last confession.” You pause. You cannot feel your tongue. “I am a student of Biology at the university,” you continue, “This is my confession.”

You spend a few minutes going over trivial acts you knew wouldn’t count as sin; a mild quarrel, a swear, a midnight erection, but you said them anyway, because the things you truly wished to say were broken vowels, refusing to stick back together.

“Is that all?” An airy baritone arrests you. 

The church is suddenly hot. You can feel beads of sweat running down your thighs. You remember your holiday in Kano, last year, and how the sun there was always a boiling orange. When your mother asked you if you would like to visit there again, you told her that Kano felt like hell, but a busy hell. She laughed.

“Can you know a thing and never speak of it?” You ask, peering into the curtain.

A chuckle sieves through. 

“I am under oath,” he says. You bite your lips. Of course he was under oath, you have heard about the Seal of Confession.

You drag in air, a little too much, and as quick as you blink, you say, “I lust after a boy.” There is silence from the other side. You can feel air leaving your body through your ears. “Father, I look at him the same way I look at girls, and I think of us entangled in bed, naked.” More silence. “Tell me what I should do to stop this. I know this is not of God. It is the devil, Father. It is him.”

You try not to cry. You want him to say something. Anything.

The last time you touched yourself, you were alone in the bathroom, trying to hold a mental picture of him in your head. You saw his face, then his lips, and when his butt swayed in your head, you stopped and let the soap slip. That night, you invited your girlfriend over and while you were inside her, you told her you would write a poem about slippery spiders. She stared at you and for a moment, you thought she would scream and run out. The next day, she told you you were weird. It was not a compliment.

“I once loved a boy in the way one loves a girl too,” the priest says, finally. Your heart skips, a painful thud. You want to snatch the curtain away and slap the priest. You do not know why. 

“How did you overcome it? How did you win against the devil?” You ask.

He chuckles again.

“There is no devil. It is natural. One can only manage it, for love is of God. And God is love.”

“How do I manage it, this love?”

Right. Wrong. Just. Evil. The priest is saying so many things you do not understand. You nod. ‘Love is a thing with faces’this is how you would write it in your diary. Or perhaps, a poem.

As you step outside the church, the sun sits in the sky blurred by the harmattan fog. The earth is now warm, heaven ascends slowly, you can see the full stretch of palm trees in the distance. 

You walk to a corner beside the ixora hedges in the church yard and remove your phone from your pocket to call your mother. You tell her you can smell Christmas and that you can’t wait to see her again. Then, you begin to cry. She doesn’t tell you to stop. She only says, she understands. You cry the more knowing you cannot know a thing and never speak of it.


Bryan Joe Okwesili is a chocolate-loving realist. A poet and storyteller keen on telling diverse African stories. His art have appeared and are forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, Brittle paper, Lunaris, Expound, Kalahari review, African writers and elsewhere. He is currently a student of law at the University of Calabar, Calabar.

‘The Return’ by Kim Fahner

The boat left the pier and headed out beyond the bay, to open ocean. So far to go before they reached Ireland’s Eye, Maura thought, as she pulled her sunglasses from the swirl of her hair down over her face, to cover her eyes. In her mind, she was Grace Kelly, but a Grace Kelly without a floaty chiffon scarf billowing in the wind. The image was ruined when the wind took her hair, shoved a stray lock into her mouth. She grimaced. This was not the cinematic affair she had intended, booking the trip off the coast of Newfoundland to return something that needed returning.

The captain looked archetypal, all seaworthy and salty. She squinted through the sunlight to see if there was a stray whale off in the distance. No whales, but one errant iceberg. 

She yelled across at Brian. “Can we go out there? To see it?” He didn’t seem to hear her so she pushed the sunglasses back up onto her head, as if that would help—to make eye contact—and then yelled, more loudly, and much more slowly. “Brian! Can. We. Go. Out. There?! To see the iceberg?”  

“No way, missus. That’s further out than you’d think, that one. If we did that, I couldn’t take you out to the island to see where your people lived. So. Iceberg or island. Your choice.” He tilted his head, smirked. 

She tried again. “If I gave you more money? Would you take me out there, too? Could we go there first, and then to the island on the way back?” He could hear her, she knew. He was just being an asshole.

She tried again, tapping at the bohemian bag that she’d slung diagonally across her chest. “For. More. Money?” She smiled, maybe even thought about loosening the top two buttons on her shirt. She wanted to see the iceberg, as well as the island, and she wasn’t one for taking no for an answer. 

Brian shook his head, sadly. “Nope. No doin’ today.” He looked skyward, searching the cloudless sky. “Might be some bad weather coming…” 

In her mind, Maura rolled her eyes, but in reality she just put her hand up to her neck, then dropped it down to loosen the top two buttons. Shameless. Watched his eyes drop down, then slide back up to meet hers. Her grandmother would scold her, if she could see Maura now. Such a hussy.

“Listen. Brian. I’ll give you more money. Out there to the iceberg, then back to the island.” Batted her eyelashes, and then patted the bag again.

He waffled, looking at his watch. Pretended to check the time. Cleared his throat. Yelled at her. “Okay, okay. A hundred more, and you’ll see the iceberg. But we aren’t staying long…” 

Maura turned then, face towards the sea, so that she could pretend he wasn’t in the boat with her. Listened to the sound of the boat’s motor roar, the way the water churned itself up ‘something fierce,’ as her grandmother would’ve said. Her hand drifted to the bag that sat in her lap. Felt it in her gut, then in her heart.

Brian knew, he did, why she was coming out here, to the island. She’d told him when she’d called. A friend of a friend of a family friend had connected her. “No worries, Maura. He’ll take you out to the spot, put the boat against the rocks, and let you scatter them on the land. No worries at all.” 

She looked off to the right, saw the island passing by, and felt her heart sink. They’d left there about eight years before she’d been born. She’d never seen it, but only heard stories of what life had been like there before they’d been forced out, to the mainland. Fishing, some gardens leading down to the water, the church, and the black rock in the tickle, the one you had to steer around to get into the harbour. She’d only seen the pictures, so it all seemed unreal. 

Brian yelled at her over the motor. “See that? Over there? The eagle?!” He slowed the boat.

She turned, then, but couldn’t see. She shook her head. “No. Where?!” 

He pointed with his arm, with his whole body almost. “Follow where my fingers go. There. On that tall point of land? It’s up there.”

She caught it then: strong, carved almost, and somehow defiant. 

Brian yelled. “They used to watch their littlest ones, you know?” 

“What?” Maura yelled back, confused.

“The eagles used to swoop down on the cod, and then one or two took a small lamb or chicken. But then the islanders were worried about the children…” He shook his head, his eyes going wide. 

“Kids? Eagles taking children?!” 

“Never let them on that side of the island alone. Always with an adult in tow.” He pulled his sunglasses over his eyes now, ending the conversation, and revved the motor again. “Just eagles here now…”

They got to the iceberg before the half hour was up. He slowed the boat, killed the motor, let them drift at a safe distance. 

“Do you want to put some of them here, then, too?” His voice was quiet now, uncertain.

Maura shifted in her seat, closed her eyes, thought about it. Felt the ice breathing next to her. She shivered. “Yes. So much of her came from here that some of her should be here again.” 

Brian nodded, looked away to give her privacy. She unzipped the bag, pulled out a pill bottle. Everything was dust, including memory. Maura steadied her legs, leaned over the edge of the boat, and emptied half of the bottle into the sea. 

She blew a kiss to the waves. 

She heard Brian clear his throat, anxious to go. She nodded, sat back down. He started the motor. 

What was left, Maura would scatter on the island. 

What was left, the eagles would help carry up and away.


Kim Fahner lives and writes in Sudbury, Ontario. Her latest book of poems is These Wings (Pedlar Press, 2019). She was the fourth poet laureate of Greater Sudbury (2016-18). Kim is a member of the League of Canadian Poets, a supporting member of the Playwrights Guild of Canada, and is the Ontario representative for The Writers’ Union of Canada (2020-22). She may be reached via her author website at www.kimfahner.com